Since its inception in 1988, David Byrne's Luaka Bop label has been a sure-fire source of some of the best music I've ever heard, from its compilations of Brazilian and Cuban music to bands like Cornershop, Os Mutantes, and Tom Ze. Though Byrne is no longer running the label, it continues to blaze a remarkable musical trail: its next album will be The Time For Peace Is Now, a collection of "secular gospel" rarities from the 1970s, "focusing not on Jesus or God, but instead on ourselves, and how we exist with each other."
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On November 18, 1978, more than nine hundred members of the Peoples Temple, under the guidance of cult leader Rev. Jim Jones, killed themselves or were murdered in the jungles of Guyana. Five years before the mass suicide-murder though, Jones was a pillar of the San Francisco community, hobnobbing with government officials and other big-shots while leading his adoring congregation in religious, social, and political activism. It was during those sunny days that Jones and the Peoples Temple released "He's Able," a soulful gospel album featuring the congregation's choir, band, and of course their fearless leader. Rolling Stone's David Chiu shares the history of this private press LP that took on a whole new life after its creators' tragic deaths:
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In a way, the Temple choir and the band were a microcosm of the church: a group of performers of different races, age groups and social backgrounds who came together to advance progressive and social causes, such as helping the underprivileged. “These are voices that no longer are here,” says Leslie Wagner-Wilson, a former Temple choir member, of the album. “And they were singing because they had hope. They had a hope for a better world.”..
Jim Jones himself appeared on the record, singing lead on the hymnal “Down From His Glory,” a reworking of the Neapolitan song “O Sole Mio.” (Listen below.) “He came in with a couple of his guards that were with him,” (music director James) Beam recalls of that particular session with Jones. “Everybody in the recording studio that worked there looked at this guy and went, ‘Whoa, what’s going on with this?’
In January 1972, Aretha Franklin performed at the New Temple Missionary Baptist Church in Los Angeles' Watts neighborhood. The LP of those performances is an absolutely breathtaking celebration of soul gospel. It won a Grammy, became the biggest selling live gospel record in history, and remains the highest selling record of Franklin's career. Filmmaker Sydney Pollack documented the performance and the plan was to release the concert movie as a double feature with Super Fly during the summer of 1972. The problem though is that Pollack hadn't used a clapper board during the filming that would enable him to sync the audio and footage from the five cameras. With no way to properly edit the film, the project was shelved until about ten years ago. And in a few months, the world will finally see it. From the New York Times:
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(Alan) Elliott, who had been obsessed with the lost footage since working as a music executive in the mid-1980s, ultimately persuaded Warner to sell him the reels in 2007. (He mortgaged his house.) By 2010, digital technology had evolved to a point that syncing film and sound was finally possible....
As a planned release date approached in 2011, however, Ms. Franklin sued Mr. Elliott for using her likeness without her permission. That started years of legal wrangling, with Ms. Franklin and her lawyers blocking Mr. Elliott and the Telluride Film Festival from showing “Amazing Grace” in 2015 and 2016, even after deals for her compensation seemed to have been worked out.
In 1960, Sister Rosetta Tharpe performed this rousing rendition of "This Little Light of Mine" at France's Festival de Jazz d’Antibes Juan-les-Pins. Most of us are familiar with "This Little Light of Mine" as a lovely children's spiritual, but the 1920s tune, written by Harry Dixon Loes, became an anthem of the Civil Rights movement.
Learn more about the song's history at NPR: "'This Little Light Of Mine' Shines On, A Timeless Tool Of Resistance"
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